It's that time again, Busby Babers. The Cristiano-Ronaldo-to-Manchester-United rumour is back from its restless sleep, and our devotion to your happiness requires that we don our protective gear, hold our collective nose, and plunge into the murky depths. Would he? Could he? And should he?
Are Manchester United interested in buying him?
Well, duh. He's Cristiano Ronaldo. As we noted when writing up the rumour, it would be surprising and vaguely negligent if United didn't maintain a standing interest in taking him back to Old Trafford. "Hi, guys. Cristiano for sale? Okay, speak to you in January. Take care."
As a general rule: if you can buy Ronaldo, buy Ronaldo. But if buying Ronaldo when you can is logical, then buying him when you need to is a bonus. Angel di Maria is off, apparently, and so there's a space in the squad for a world class attacking player (okay, so Di Maria didn't look like one much of the time, but you take the point). Stick him on the left, stick him up top; either way, he'll score and he'll scare the life out of defenders. And he could have that number 7 shirt back as well.
When it comes to trying to pick holes in the idea, there's only really one problem, and that's his age. Ronaldo is 30 and will turn 31 in February. And he's quite a heavily raced 30 as well: 120 caps for Portugal added to over 600 club appearances. He's going to starting slowing down at some point, and that some point might be soon.
Still, though. You'd take him. So would Ed Woodward, who likes signing big players. So would Louis van Gaal, who needs to win a title in the next two seasons. There'd be goals, there'd be glamour, and there'd be funny seething sounds coming from the rest of the country. He's Ronaldo.
Are Real Madrid interested in selling him?
By all the rules of common sense, you'd assume not. He's brilliant — scoring more or less a goal a game for over 300 appearances is ridiculous — and having brilliant footballers is a good way to win football games. He's also astoundingly famous and endlessly marketable: as galactic a galactico as ever, er, galacticised. Galacticked? Galacticated?
All that said, Real Madrid are a funny lot. They are, particularly when Florentino Perez is in charge, an exciting blend of extreme hubris and pathological impatience; they are only pretending to be a football club, and so it cannot be assumed that they will do what seems sensible. After all, they've just replaced the popular, Champions League-winning Carlo Ancelotti with Rafa Benitez. And even if you think Rafa Benitez is pretty good, that's weird.
Does he want to move?
Well, we don't know. You use your psychic powers and look inside his head.
Oh, fine. Over the last week or so, the papers and the internet have been thoroughly enjoying themselves with what appear to be, or at least what have been presented as, signs that Ronaldo is unhappy with various aspects of his life at Madrid. Such as ...
Training! On the off chance you haven't seen it, here's a video of Ronaldo getting a little pissy in practice.
According to Spanish newspaper AS, Ronaldo was unpleased that Rafa Benitez disallowed a goal — "Only the fouls by the Portuguese are seen" — and then that they were asked to play the crossbar challenge. "It's meant to be the ball in there, in the net. Not this shite." Now, maybe this was all in jest, or maybe he's just like that on the training pitch no matter who's in charge. We don't know. But at the very least, it's pretty funny.
Rafa Benitez! Maybe. A couple of days before Florentino Perez unsheathed his well-used managerial axe, Ronaldo made a point of posing for a photograph with Ancelotti and telling the world that he hoped to be working with him next season. Then ... CHOP.
Also, Miguel Delaney (of ESPN and various other places) has been wondering:
Interesting there given Ronaldo is still in contact with Ferguson, who once publicly referred to Rafa as "that clown" among other things.— Miguel Delaney (@MiguelDelaney) July 23, 2015
Hard not to imagine them having discussions similar to that between Maicon and Mourinho about Benitez.— Miguel Delaney (@MiguelDelaney) July 23, 2015
The club! Well, maybe. According to the Manchester Evening News — who last night brought us the story that United are more interested than usual — Ronaldo's been generally unimpressed with the way Real Madrid sacked Ancelotti, bounced Iker Casillas out of the club, and irritated Sergio Ramos to the point of wanting to leave. We don't know how close the MEN are to Ronaldo's innermost thoughts, but there we are.
Tactics! The MEN also reckon that Ronaldo's not hugely excited by the idea of playing as Benitez's striker. We've no idea why. Look what that did for Gonzalo Higuain's confidence.
So, is it on? Is it? Is it on? On, is it?
As ever, the answer is probably not. While we can be fairly sure that United both want and can afford a transfer, and while it's not completely ridiculous that Ronaldo might, it would be deeply peculiar for Real Madrid to move their best player on, however miserable he might be.
But on the other hand, if you wanted to pretend it's going to happen, then please, take all of the above and go right ahead. There's two great advantages to doing so. One, you get to spend a little time picturing Ronaldo thumping yet more goals into the net for Manchester United, and that's only slightly less fun for being imaginary. And two, if by some miracle it does come off, then you get to say I told you so. Optimists are suckers, except when they're right.